Just before noon on Wednesday, I received an email from City Transport chief Cllr Lesley Macinness, signalling her agreement to attend a public meeting on Friday about the Spaces for People proposals for East Craigs and Craigmount. It was significant because it represented the first time that many of the 3,500 households impacted by the plans had had the opportunity to put their views to the council leadership.
In terms of publicity, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to simply email the 2,500 people who had signed the change.org petition asking the council to suspend their plans and conduct a consultation. But that wouldn’t have been fair. Not everyone in those estates is concerned by the proposals, some are enthusiastically supportive. So, we had to tell everyone.
All told, 30 local residents and I managed to deliver to every home in East Craigs and Craigmount by 1pm on Thursday. We were a bit anxious that with only 36 hours notice, turnout might have been a problem. We needn’t have worried. By six o’clock on Friday evening, Gyle Park was playing host to hundreds of socially distanced people. (Police Scotland were consulted and present throughout.)
Right out of the traps, it was clear that those present where overwhelmingly (if not unanimously) opposed to the changes. Speakers from across the political spectrum, from the community councils and from the local campaign group raised cheer after cheer when they called on the city to pause the proposals, consult the community and think again.
Then it was the Transport Convener’s turn. She laid out the administration’s position and then stood her ground for the best part of 90 minutes while she took the full force of the anger and concern that had built up over the past five weeks. It was tough to watch, but she stuck it out and I respect her for it.
From the crowd, we heard passionate and reasoned arguments made by disabled people, town planners, parents, children, the local parish minister and a whole range of others. This was not a gathering of car enthusiasts. If you’re the council transport chief and you’re confronted by such a coalition, then you’ve got to wonder if you may in fact be on the wrong side of the argument.
These people care about climate change and they absolutely want to reduce unnecessary car journeys, they just resent not being asked their opinion when they can see the obvious problems in the proposals. For a start, the road closures will funnel nearly 4,000 households through three of the most congested vehicular pinch-points in the city.
The city leadership took money from the government and the provisional consent of the council to bring in measures for social distancing and active travel during lockdown and they shot for the moon.
In the case of East Craigs and Craigmount, they used a temporary crisis to bring in sweeping changes that have nothing to do with Covid and may very likely turn out to be permanent.
Cllr Macinness tried to sell those gathered on Friday the vision of Waltham Forest – the London suburb dubbed ‘Little Holland’ after a range of road layout changes made things much harder for cars and easier for bikes. I like what they’ve done in Waltham Forest, but I particularly like the five phases of community consultation that went before it. The good people of East Craigs and Craigmount have had no such courtesy.
We have got to change the way we move around in this city and get people out of their cars, for the sake of our air quality and health.
It’s why Liberal Democrats have supported 15 out of 17 Spaces for People proposals, but we need to carry hearts and minds with us along the way and that starts with listening to the people who will have to live with the changes we create.
It should not have taken an opposition politician from a different democratic institution to get these residents in front of the Transport Convener for the first time. I hope she listened.
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